Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Homily for Easter II, Year A, 2008
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Hebrews 11:1, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:24-29

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.”
Hebrews 11:1

Thomas demands a sign. He demands to know if the one spoken of by his fellows is truly his Lord and his master. If my Lord walks again, then he shall bear the wounds of his passion. Show me the wounds of Christ, show me the marks of his death, and then I shall proclaim, “He lives.” He demands no more or less than any of his fellows. When Mary Magdalene met her Lord in the garden, Peter refused to believe her word and only a face-to-face encounter would allay his doubt. The other disciples, too, demanded to see him. Is Thomas any different from the rest; is Thomas any different from us? Let me touch the Lord with my hands and I shall know he lives.

“My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back,” writes the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. Thomas did not shrink back. In spite of his pain and sadness and the wound of loss that he carried within his soul, he did not shrink back. And like the prophets of old about which St. Peter speaks, he sought out his salvation by “careful searching and inquiry.” The Gospel of St. John is known as a Gospel of signs. Jesus travels around the countryside giving signs to the people of Galilee and Judea that he is sent from the Father. Thomas is a good student, and having learned to look for a sign, he demands it. “Show me the marks of his death and I shall believe.” Show me the body. But is it enough simply to see the body, even if it walks?

The body of Jesus that the disciples encounter behind the locked doors of that house in Jerusalem is a body still bearing the marks of the crucifixion. It is a wounded body; it is a broken body. When the disciples meet their Risen Lord they meet the man who gave his life for many and in beholding his hands and his side, there can be no doubt that this is Jesus who died. This is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken for you.
The body of Jesus that the disciples encounter behind the locked doors of that house in Jerusalem is also a body that has been transformed in its Resurrection. While it still bears the marks of the Crucifixion, it is also a body that is no longer constrained by the mechanisms of humanly manufactured locks and keys. It is a body that moves through walls and ascends on high. It is a body that miraculously appears to his disciples, on the seashore, in the garden, in a locked house. It is a mystical body – a body of which we are invited to be part; a body that we are to feed on in our hearts by faith and thanksgiving, preserving our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.

Thomas beholds the body of his Lord with his hands and cries out “My Lord and My God.” The strongest, boldest, most revolutionary claim for the Messiahship, nay, the divine kingship of Jesus in the entire New Testament, is given here, found on the lips of the so-called doubting apostle.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for...”

Thomas hoped beyond hope that what he would encounter would be his master and friend, once again present to him. Thomas hoped beyond hope that what others had witnessed would be real to him, too.

“Faith is the conviction of things unseen...”

What did Thomas see? He saw a man who supposedly died a week before standing before him. He felt the wound on his side and the marks on his hands and beheld the marks of Jesus’ passion. But what did he really see. Would the appearance of a man thought dead convince any of us that he was God among us, the Word Incarnate? Could this not be a trick? What did Thomas really see, beyond the wounds, beyond the man?

The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Thomas saw and believed. Thomas saw a promise, the promise of his Lord, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He saw a promise fulfilled that his Lord would not leave him, that his Lord comes to him even in his darkest moment of sadness, doubt and despair – Lo! I am with you, Thomas.

What did he see? What did he feel? What did he know in his heart? “Peace” says Jesus, “my peace I give to you and my peace I leave with you.” That is the conviction of things unseen, beyond the wounds, beyond the man, the very peace of God which passeth all understanding. The Risen Jesus stood not only before him, but within him, Thomas feeding on his Lord by faith, with thanksgiving.

The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. For Thomas and the others, seeing was believing. But St. John, knowing that the time would come when seeing would no longer be possible, committed to writing the story of Thomas, and so many other stories, written, in his own words, “that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that in believing, we might have life.” And so it is true for us, as St. Peter wrote so long ago, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribably and glorious joy!”

We may not see him as Thomas, Mary Magdalene or Peter beheld him, but oh, we do meet him. For week by week we feed on the bread of life and that life is the light of all people. As we take the bread in our hands, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we behold, inwardly by faith, his head, his hands, his side, the sorrow and the blood. But as we receive the sacrament of his passion we also become filled joy, with the light of the Lord. The Word made flesh enters into us raising us to new life, in this world and the next. As we behold our Lord in our hands, we draw near with faith. We draw near even in our own fear, with our own doubts, with our own wounds and in our own sadnesss, and we dare not shrink back, because we know him in our hearts -- he stands risen, not only before us, but also within us -- the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. And we, like Thomas, feel moved to shout with all assurance and with all conviction, “My Lord and my God.”

Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Behold your Son, Behold your Mother, Behold Your God: A Homily for Good Friday

Sermon For Good Friday, 2008
Friday, March 21st, 2008
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 18:1-19:42

“Woman, behold your son – Son, behold your mother.”

Some time ago, I heard a story on the CBC about bullet-proof clothing. Unlike the bulky vest worn by police officers, this was designer clothing that looked no different from any other high-end garment that might adorn those who grace the runways and red carpets. What I found amazing was that this was literally a booming industry. A fifteen thousand dollar suit had just been delivered to a big businessman; a twenty thousand dollar dress sold quite handily to a young starlet. And what is more, the salespeople were really willing to get behind their product: They were literally willing to take a bullet for the cause. As I drove along listening to the radio report, my mouth was agape as I heard interviews with salespeople who had worn the clothes and were shot a point-blank range in order to demonstrate their own faith in the product. And upon the conclusion of the report, two words came into my head – fear and madness.

This report brings into focus the kind of paranoia by which we can be gripped living in a world of fear. Who is it that lurks around the corner waiting to take my life? Who is it that seeks to harm me, my family, or my children? Who is it that seeks to undermine the security of our nation to the point that we happily and wilfully give up our civil liberties as if such liberties were refuse to be dusted away in a Spring cleaning? And more than the fear of whom, there is the complacent fear of when. We become gripped by a paranoia that it is inevitable that others seek to harm us, and that it is only a matter of time until that unknown person takes a shot at us or our loved ones. We become so gripped with fear that we build walls around our cities, or through their centres, across our borders, in our airports, and now apparently around our bodies in the form of bullet-proof designer clothing, all in the hope of protecting us from some inevitable attack on our person. An existence built around fear.

Is this anything other than madness? Does it not speak of the complete, and more poignantly, the voluntary separation of ourselves from each other? Were we not created as beings of relationship, of love, of compassion, of tenderness? And yet we eagerly and willingly embrace the madness of separation in the hope of survival. Instead of questioning why we might need designer bullet proof clothing in the first place; instead of living lives that might change the madness of this reality, we design it, market and promote it, sell it, and even take a bullet ourselves to demonstrate its necessity. We choose to embrace the culture of fear and madness, rather than witness to its transformation.

“Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself … One of them asked him, ‘did I not see you in the garden with Jesus?’ Are you not one of his disciples?’ Peter replied, ‘I am not.”

Fear – driven by fear, a fear for his own safety, a fear that he had followed a false prophet, a fear that he was now to be condemned for a relationship with this false messiah, Peter denied his Lord. A wall went up around him, it was as if he slipped on one of those designer bullet-proof garments so that he could stand safely in the midst of those who might seize him and put him to death. And yet, there he stood at that moment, protected yes, but by his lie, utterly and completely alone.

“My peace I gave, which the world cannot give,
and washed your feet as a sign of my love,
but you draw the sword to strike in my name,
and seek high places in my kingdom.
I offered you my body and blood,
But you scatter and deny and abandon me.”

That love is ever before us, as it was ever before Peter. Again and again our Lord comes to us. The love of the servant king banishes all fear and casts away all darkness. But do we still choose fear? Do we still choose darkness? When push comes to shove, shall we choose to participate in the culture of fear and madness because it is easier to believe in despair rather than to proclaim hope? Shall we build walls around ourselves, segregating us from each other and from our Lord? Shall we make the pretence of belonging to each other, warming ourselves around the fire, if in fact, we have denied the one who by his love transforms the world in love? Fear is easy, because it is what we see every day – but what of the way we know by faith? What of the courage of love?

Some time later, at the foot of the cross stands a man and three women. The man is without name, some believe him to be the disciple John, we cannot be sure, but we do know this – he was one that Jesus loved. And with him, stand others, beloved by the Lord, most especially, his own mother, Mary. And as he risked all for them, as he gave his life that they might have life and have it abundantly, so too, they risked all for him. They risked the derision of onlookers. They risked the likelihood that as his followers they, too, might soon be persecuted at put to death. They risked the pain and fear of seeing one they loved so much die a slow and painful death. They stood in the open, on a hill, at the foot of that instrument of death and pain, when all others had run away in fear, beneath the one whose arms were stretched wide in pain but wide in love and offered him their mutual love in spite of the stares and derision of the world, the abandonment of their friends, and the danger and fear they must have felt. Against all fear, they stood together.

And he looked down on that young man with these words, “Son, behold your mother,” and to his mother, “woman, behold your son.” These are words that shall be forever remembered as words that bound these individuals together inseparably for all time. And what is more, they are words that bind us together for all time. They are words that are spoken to us today from that same cross. Look around this place, behold your mother, behold your father, behold your sons and your daughters, behold your brothers and your sisters. And as you gaze back, behold the Man, the man who spoke these words and made that sacrifice on the cross. For these words and that sacrifice have knit us together into one great family of love and compassion, in which sin and fear and darkness are banished forever, and replaced by a love so deep and so wide that stretches out over all creation. This is what we were created for -- this is what we were meant to be -- and not just us, but the whole world: to be one great human family, drawn together through the sacrifice of love.

Our prayer must be today, that the Lord will call us into the depth of that love, turning us from fear and madness, and putting in us the Spirit of courage that we might testify to this love that casts away all darkness. We pray that we might stand on that hill, with faith as the world chooses pain, and war, and violence. We pray that we have the grace to proclaim to that same world, with actions that speak louder than words, that self-sacrificing love that binds rather than separates us. For we know that our Lord calls the whole human family to look upon each other saying, behold your mother, behold your son. Let us have the courage to stand together with each other and with him as we look to the cross and proclaim: Behold the man, behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Behold our God.

Copyright 2008 by the Reverend Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Foolishness of God -- A Homily for Tuesday in Holy Week

Homily for Tuesday in Holy Week, 2008
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36

“The Message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” – 1 Cor. 1:18

Paradox stands at the heart of our Holy Week journey: A triumphal parade becomes the longest mile; a king is crowned with thorns and placed upon a cross as throne; the healing of the nations comes about through the wounding of a single man; and ultimately, new life is born out of death. Is it any wonder, then, that St. Paul says, “that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” In this world, which oft seems devoid of meaning, how can these paradoxes make any sense at all? Is not what we see with our own eyes what is real? Are not Kings are gloried in their victory rather than in their defeat? Is not pain an unavoidable reality that grips us all, sooner or later? Is not death our final humiliation? On the surface, the answer is “yes.” The paradoxes are absurd. What we see is what we know. Defeat is defeat; pain is pain; and death is death. How can they be anything more? We see with our own eyes the reality of such things and we have experienced them in our own lives and the lives of those around us. And it’s not pretty.

There is another way of seeing, though. It is a way of seeing that penetrates the reality that is seen by our eyes, heard with our ears, touched by our hands. Truly, it is a reality that penetrates our hearts and souls. It is the reality of God here among us; light in the midst of us. It is a reality that is beyond sensory comprehension. It is a reality that is beyond explanation. It is a reality that is beyond the wisdom of this world. It is a reality that is felt and known inwardly amidst the contradiction of what we may experience outwardly. It is impossible to say how it happens for each one of us, but “in Christ” we are made alive and as he peers into, and touches the depths of our hearts, so that we to peer into, and touch the depths of his. The meaninglessness of the world around us suddenly takes on meaning; in the hopelessness of our situation we suddenly find hope; and in the brokenness of our humanity we find wholeness; in the moment of death we know eternal life. This is why as Christians at funerals we confess the paradox that while we are indeed “dust and to dust we shall return,” that even at the grave we make “alleluia” our song. What is seen is not necessarily the ultimate truth, and what is more, what we see takes on greater meaning because of what we feel and know, inwardly and mystically, in Christ. Thus St. Paul can say, “that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

And so it is that in losing our life, we shall find it; in gentleness, we shall find strength; in brokenness, we discover wholeness; in dying, yet we live. In Christ, as St. John reminds us, life is fleeting and not to be hoarded or clung to, for it is never really ours to possess. If we know the one who gives us life, we shall come to live it more fully, more passionately, and more meaningfully. Then, finally, the paradox in all its inexplicable contradiction will be understood and we will revel in understanding in the foolishness of God.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in who or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Silence and Noise: A Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A, 2008
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: St. Matthew’s Passion Narrative; Philippians 2:5-11

Silence and noise. These two opposites tug at us in our hearing of the Passion According to St. Matthew. On the one hand, there are those who mock our Lord; there are those who deride him; there are those who have much to say about the man hanging on the cross. They speak as if they understand all things, self-righteously pontificating with self-assurance. On the other hand, there are those who stand by quietly, not speaking, not commenting, not editorializing; rather, simply participating in the drama as it unfolds, exhibiting a different sort of righteousness – the faithfulness of discipleship. Noise and silence.

From the earliest moments of St. Matthew’s gospel, it has been the purpose of the Evangelist to teach us about what it means to be a true disciple; what it means to be righteous. But righteousness may not mean exactly what we think it does. No, for in the opening chapters of St. Matthew, we learn of Joseph, a righteous man, who would do the right thing and put away his wife Mary for her alleged infidelity. This would have been the righteous thing. Instead, God directs him on a different path, the path of gentleness, the path of compassion, a path in which he opened himself to ridicule by others – the path of self-offering and self-giving.

And so it is time and time again for St. Matthew. Righteousness is not what we think it is. Consider the temptations of Jesus, as well as the Sermon on the Mount, in each of these stories we learn that righteousness is not about following the right code, but the giving over of self in order that the heavenly kingdom might come on earth.

In the final moments of Jesus’ earthly life, we are witness to this ultimate self-offering. He is accused of being unrighteous, of being a blasphemer, but nothing can be further from the truth. To the accusations leveled against him, he makes no pretense to greatness. As palms and garments are thrown before him acclaiming him king, he comes riding not on a white stead but on a lowly donkey. To the question: “Are you the Messiah?”, comes the self-effacing reply, “You have said so.” As soldiers, thieves and passersby mock him, the noise becomes deafening: “If you are indeed God’s son save yourself; you saved others!” Amidst the noise truth is indeed spoken, albeit ironically, mockingly: He is the king, the Messiah, the Son of God. Ironically, they speak the truth, only they know not of what they speak.

In the shadows stands the one who could speak the truth, the one who acclaimed him as God’s Son. But Peter refuses to step into the light, choosing to remain in the shadows of the flickering fire, denying his Lord. From his lips comes the deafening noise of denial.

Noise and Silence.

Through his condemnation and through his lengthy execution, our Lord spoke but a few words. Amidst the deafening noise of the accusations and taunting, he chose not to acclaim the glory that was indeed his, but took up his cross in order that the righteousness of God might be fulfilled. He took up his cross so that in vulnerability we might find strength, in hopelessness we might see hope, so that in death we might know resurrection.

It is common for us to think of this as a lonely journey in which Jesus was abandoned. It seems all the lonelier due to the incessant noise made by those around the silent Messiah who is led like a lamb to the slaughter. And yet, if we examine the narrative more closely, if we delve into the silence, we recognize that our Lord is not alone. There are others that stand with him, silently, oh so silently, but they also stand with him, faithfully, oh so faithfully. A man name Simon, a Cyrenean, was compelled to carry our Lord’s cross. Does he, like Peter (another Simon) abdicate his responsibility? Does he announce that he does not know the man? Does he refuse? No. Without voice or word he takes up his Lord’s cross and follows him, providing not only respite for a doomed man, but a model of discipleship for all time.

And if we extend today’s narrative a paragraph further than we read this morning, we learn of “many women, looking on from a distance; who had followed him all the way from the Galilee, having provided for him.” Like the angels who came to minister to him after his desert temptation, so these faithful women, not least being Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the Zebedees, stood with him, silently during his final moments. Unlike the men who ran away, who could not watch and pray even for an hour, they stayed and prayed, silently, oh, so silently. Yet, their silence would not remain silence. For simply by being there they became the first faithful witnesses to the saving act of God. While others mocked and derided, in their silence these women watched and prayed. They would be the first to proclaim him risen from the dead; they would be the first to believe; they would be the first apostles of the Resurrection. In their compassion, ministering to him faithfully and consistently from the foundation of his mission, to this his final moments, they teach us what it means to be true disciples of Jesus. They did not run and in the fullness of time, their silence turns to proclamation.

And finally, if we read but another paragraph further, we hear of another selfless man, another Joseph (take note), who like the first Joseph, at great expense and risk to himself, in order to offer loving care to the women around Jesus took a brave and courageous step of compassion. He went quietly to Pilate and asked for the body, which he placed in his own tomb: A quiet, courageous man of some means and position in his society who quietly risked it all to do the right thing -- a model of discipleship.

Silence and Noise.

A generation later, St. Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” And in today’s epistle Paul sings an ancient hymn about our Lord who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…even unto death on a cross.”

Jesus came not as one with an army or fiery sword. He came as a servant. It is the servant king who redeems us, who brings us to new life, who offers us hope in the midst of our sorrow. This is the righteousness of which St. Matthew speaks. It is not the righteousness of Law, or rule, or doctrine, or forms of worship. No. It is the righteousness of Love, compassion, gentleness, and self-offering. Everything else has the potential to become a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong. The most righteous men of the day put our Lord to death. The most righteous of the disciples denied him in the moment of truth. The most righteous did the wrong thing for the right reason. But there were others who in silent love, silent compassion, silent self-giving followed their lord through the trials of the cross to the glory of the resurrection.

As participants in the Passion of our Lord we find ourselves confronted with a choice. Shall we choose to cling to the noise of our own self-righteousness or shall we choose the silence of eternity interpreted by love? Should we choose the silence, we shall indeed find that we have a voice, a voice that proclaims louder than any clanging cymbal the still small voice of calm. We shall find the voice that in humility hopes all things, bears all things, believes all things, and endures all things. Like the women around Jesus we shall find our voice and it shall be the voice of our Lord that in thought, word and deed, proclaims a love so great, so divine that it demands our souls, our lives, our all.

Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or resdistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can These Bones Live?

Homily for Lent 5, Year A, 2008
Sunday, March 9th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

“Can these bones live?”

--Ezekiel 37:3

Some time after the people of Judah were taken into captivity in 587 B.C., the prophet Ezekiel was swept up in a vision in which he was transported to a valley of dry bones – a valley where bone was piled upon bone for as far as the eye could see. It was an unimaginable sight and he stood within its midst. One can only imagine the revulsion that he felt given the palpable stench and taste of death, given the reality of the ritual impurity of the moment, and given the fearsome sight itself of bone upon bone. Frightfully, Ezekiel stood amidst the utter a reality of death itself. Could he have kept himself from weeping? What were the emotions that welled deep within his heart in that moment? He certainly knew that these bones represented the fate of his nation; he certainly knew that this vision of death was not simply a vision, but rather a manifestation of the reality faced by his people in exile. And had God forsaken them? Had God forsaken him? Was this to be the ultimate fate of the people who walked in the darkness of foreign oppression? They had certainly lost their way but they had also been escorted somewhere that they would rather not have gone. Was this to be his own fate? As the horror of the vision overwhelmed him, these words took shape within his ears, and the voice of God spoke to him, “Can these bones live?” A small voice began to form within his own breast and took shape on his own lips, “Oh Lord God, you know."

There is much to weep over in this present age, in a world filled with brokenness and despair, not to mention a church filled with brokenness and resignation over its own apparent imminent demise. Do we not feel as if we might be standing in a valley of dry bones -- bone upon bone for as far as the eye can see? Do we not feel, at times, that whether it be church or world, we have a certain helplessness and hopelessness about how things are going to unfold. Do we dare to stand against the oppressor when the oppressor seems unbeatable? Do we dare to stand against injustice when injustice appears the to have become the order of the day? Are we afraid to embrace change because all we have ever known becomes all we can ever imagine? Shall the exile be the best that we can hope for? Shall battles in court over the possession of church buildings be the best that we can offer to the world? Are we a people without voice, without form, without flesh on our bones, without the breath of life itself – a people without hope? It seems that this is how the world often sees us. Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know.

The vision of Ezekiel is an oracle of hope. The vision of Ezekiel, though beginning in the valley of death, concludes in the Garden of Resurrection. Although Ezekiel stands in the midst of bones dried and discarded, despondent of hope, still he listens for the voice of God in the darkest and most frightful place. And that voice does indeed speak. It is a voice that speaks across the tears of a broken people and calls this lonely prophet to a new hope. "Prophesy to the bones," says the Lord. Ezekiel listens, and perhaps tentatively at first, but with increasing confidence speaks to the bones. The bones come together, bone to bone, rattling with a deafening noise. The noise is overwhelming, but do these bones yet live? Can these bones yet live? Oh Lord, you know.

At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was met by Martha, who laments uncontrollably, "If you'd been here my brother would not have died!" How easy it is to blame others. Sometimes the only answer to the brokenness of life, to the brokenness of the world, to the brokenness of the church, is to weep. At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Over life that had departed, over lack of faith, over fear and despair, Jesus wept. In the valley of the dry bones our Lord weeps, and so do we. Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know. Can Lazarus walk amongst us again? Oh Lord, you know.

"I am going to open your graves, oh my people," says the Lord. "But our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." But the voice of God thunders, “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up to from your graves, oh my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel and you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, and bring you out from your graves, oh my people." Do we dare to believe the prophecy of Ezekiel? Do we dare to hold his words as true? Do we dare to believe that the bones of our faith can live? In a world that tears itself apart in violent acts of self-destruction; and in a church tearing itself apart and demonstrating to the world that it is no better than the worst the world can offer, can we dare to believe that the Lord will breathe life into these dry bones? Can we dare to hope? Is there hope? Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know.

"Lazarus, come forth!" And the bones came together bone to bone, and the man wrapped in a shroud came forth from the tomb as the stone was rolled away, and the Spirit of the Lord moved mightily upon the bones, and Lazarus walked again amongst us; not as one without life, not as one without hope but as a witness to the mighty power of our Lord, a witness to the power of the Resurrection. These bones can live.

The forty days of our Lenten journey are a time for seeking out the broken, shattered, and dry bones of our lives, of the church, and of the world. As we find those bones, as we stand in their midst, as we fall up to our knees and weep over them, we are called to prayer: "can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know." We are called to self-examination, to repentance, but most importantly, to new life. The forty days are a time in which we journey forward through the valley of the dry bones, often finding ourselves in exile in dark places, perhaps even a tomb. In the midst of the valley, in the midst of the dry bones of our lives, we are called to prophesy to those same bones. And indeed these bones shall live. Only you will know the dry bones of your own story; together as a Christian people we seek to discover the dry bones of the church; and together as a human race we seek to uncover the dry bones of humanity. But out of our cry from the grave, we are called forth by our Lord to be his partner that together, we might turn mourning into dancing, brokenness into wholeness, ashes into fire, and death into life.

In these forty days, we journey through the valley of the shadow of death and out the mouth of a tomb into the garden of abundant life. Our Lord who has journeyed through these same depths stands at the mouth of the tomb beckoning us forward into the light -- not the light of some ephemeral, distant, future bliss, but into a world, yes, this world, illuminated by the light of Christ. "Can these bones live?" Yes, oh Lord, they can, they shall, and they will, because in you they are made alive -- because in you we are made alive. We press forward through these forty days knowing that we are not people without hope, but a people alive in the Resurrection of our Lord. We know that even amidst the dust there are always “alleluias” waiting to be sung. We know that even as our lives, our church, and our world struggle our way through the valley of dry bones, our Lord breathes new life on us, and we yet live.

"Lazarus, come forth!"

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.